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Industry Report: Animation

Disney Channel Worldwide: spearheading production in Europe


Disney Channel Worldwide: spearheading production in Europe

- Steve Aranguren is Vice President, Global Original Programming at Disney Channel Worldwide. He is responsible for supervising the development and production of live-action and animation programming outside of North America for Disney Channel Worldwide.

What is the Disney development strategy outside North America?
Disney is going through a period where we are relooking at how we make projects for the world.

Traditionally speaking, Disney has made products that have been exploited all over the world in different ways. What we have done until now to reach the local audience is dubbing the series in the local language with local expressions and voices.

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We are now changing strategy. We find good shows in a country and we rewrite the script to adapt it to another country. A good example is given by a 3 minute short Italian film called Between Classes by Dario Rodino which has been incredibly successful in Italy. Disney took the show and we rewrote the script, re-produced and re-casted to adapt it to different markets. We did the experience in 12 different territories, including Germany, Australia, UK and China with local talents.

We deal with an audience which is no longer preschool audience, but they are not quite ready to deal with programmes for teens. We make shows just for them, that teach kids how to make the next step.

Are you producing shows that are not exploited at international level?
This is the question that we are now asking ourselves. The next logical step is using local talents, local voices, and hitting the local Disney brand from a different point of view that works locally.

We started in China and India. We have a first cartoon we are making in Shangai with Chinese talents and made for the Chinese marketplace. The series is about aliens landing in China. In all the past US programmes about aliens, the extra terrestrial obviously landed in America. This is the first time that aliens arrive to China.

The Chinese government is no different in a lot of respects to the Hollywood studio system. They want commercial movies that entertain, that show people in a positive light, that aren’t too violent or sexual. A lot of these concerns are concerns Disney have. In practice, co-productions in China remain viable if producers know how to sidestep the censorship issues.

We did three live action shows in India, and there will be no international exploitation for these projects. Disney has been outsourcing animation work to India. In the past few years these outsourced services are maturing from low end 2D post production work to highly skilled 3D animation. The industry is slowly developing capabilities for co-production of full length animation movies.
There is no doubt that Indians excel in technical skills. However the world has not yet been exposed to the country’s creative side. A tie-up between Indian art and technical institutes and animation groups such as Disney will certainly be mutually beneficial.

What are your relationships with the parent company in US?
We need to adopt this local strategy. The risk for Disney, because we are a big company and because we are making certain kinds of products, is that all the shows look quite the same.

The Disney brand is cemented in people’s heads, we have to deliver certain brand promises, but we try to take a step back and let creators telling their stories instead of us telling them what stories to write. We would rather see stuff that is new and surprising than stuff that is expected for Disney.

Is the online market opening new revenues for Disney?
If we have a show which is not very good, it does not matter if we have applications on mobile and internet because kids will not see it. So we have different departments working to develop shows only for the mobile or for internet. Of course if we have a show which is particularly successful, we adopt a 360° policy and we adapt it to all possible platforms.

What is your policy in terms of co-production with European partners?
Disney is grappling with the same issues that European independent producers are grappling with: the co-production issues in Europe.
If we are going to make co-productions in Europe, Disney fully understands that we have to adapt our strategy to the European model. In US the creators pitch their project directly to Disney. In Europe the creators have to pitch their projects to an independent producer that has to put money to develop the project and then pitch it to a broadcaster. We have a stronger control on the production pipeline and we optimise the exploitation.

Moving to Europe there are two issues with coproductions. The first aspect is the creative control. The Disney brand is a hard target to hit, even inhouse. When we make a TV show we can’t afford to have different partners giving creative stamp on it.
The second issue is money: who controls the IP?
Disney spends a lot of money and time exploiting its properties worldwide. We need to feel that we have the ability to exploit all parts of those properties. Traditionally we always had all the rights. At the moment we develop projects with European partners, but we control the IP’s.

Anyway this is a changing situation. For example we are working with a Spanish partner which is developing a show very close to the Disney brand. We asked them to put the show out of the market and to acquire the rights to further develop it with Disney money. They did not accept our offer, but our acquisition department pre-bought the show for several territories. It is not a co-production, but nevertheless we find ways to cooperate.

What are the kind of projects a producer can pitch to Disney?
The show must have three basic elements: it must be a comedy, it has to have a connection to our audience and be character-driven.
The connection to our audience is very important as we are targeting families. In Disney shows generally brother and sister do not hate each other and the parents are not idiots. We loose a lot of comedies, but we have to respect our audience. We would like to be as funny as Nickelodeon, but the funny places they go to, we can’t go…

What is the best way to approach Disney in Europe?
The best way to approach Disney in Europe is the local acquisition department in the country. In London we have some 2000 pitches a year and we receive hundreds of projects. There is a volume problem that we cannot deal with. The local acquisition department is able to understand the potential of the show and to tell the producers if there is any chance for Disney to enter as co-producers.

How does testing work? What happens if everybody in the world likes a show but American kids don’t?
We test globally. If the test proves that the American kids do not like the show but the rest of the world likes it, the decision to continue to develop it or not is not standard. The answer depends on the projects, on the pedigree, on the talents developing the show, it is really a case by case decision…

Cartoon Master Munich, Germany, June 2008


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